Decorated karate and kick-boxing champion Michael Foley continues his families lineage of teaching the next great wave of Newfoundland’s martial artists
It’s fairly common in passing to refer to someone as ‘a fighter.’ Whether for a tenacious attitude, a no-quit drive, or simply a scrappy penchant for getting into scrapes, a fighter is something we toss around rather liberally. In the case of Michael Foley, you could say the term applies more than most.
Michael Foley was born into the world of combat sports. His father, Mike Foley Sr., was a kenpo karate black belt and a tournament fighting champion who established Foley’s Mixed Martial Arts in Spaniards Bay in 1978. Michael Foley Jr. and his brothers quite literally grew up in the gym. “To be honest, we literally grew up in the club in Spaniards Bay,” Foley shared in an interview with The Newfoundland Herald.
“Where most people build a family home, we built a training academy and our apartment was along the side and over the top of it. I had to walk across the training mats everyday to get to school. It would be like if you grew up living at the hockey arena, it was literally right there in front of us. There was no hesitation on my part. When I was really young I couldn’t wait to get started in it.”
‘Our Chosen Sport’
We’d imagine it’s not commonplace for your average Newfoundland family to grow up with a brood of martial artists, Foley says the lifestyle was his normal, no different than a family immersed in hockey or any other sport.
“We grew up in Newfoundland. A lot of my family members and friends are hockey families. It likens itself a lot to that,” he says. “I don’t see ourselves any different from a hockey family, or a basketball family. It’s our chosen sport and the whole family is involved in it.”
Foley first began competing in kenpo karate in 1988, earning a bronze in his first out of province tournament in Montreal a year later. He would compete consistently and medal in karate tournaments throughout the decade, transitioning into competitive kick-boxing in 1998. He took gold in the continuous kick-boxing division at the WPKA in 2001, and two gold at the 2001 KICK-USA North American Championships.
“We trained a lot, we trained every day,” Foley says of his rigorous preparations for competition. “When we went to tournaments we were just prepared. I won a lot but I lost a lot too. The training never stopped, and every time I did lose I did learn something, and it made me better for the next time. That’s what I’ll always tell my students – for every gold medal or title belt or trophy that we’ve got hung up at the club, I probably had 10 losses leading up to that. It helped develop a winning record in the long run.”
Michael would open Foley’s Mixed Martial Arts Academy in St. John’s in the fall of 2003. The academy still flourishes today, some 15 years later.
The academy offers classes in jiu jitsu, karate, kick-boxing and judo, offering a wide array of services for everyone from kids age to adult, novice to pro.
“We always work on the assumption that 95 per cent of the people who come from our doors are not coming because they want to participate in combat sports, they’re there because they want to improve themselves or learn a martial art for self-defense reasons or personal development,” Foley explains.
And while Foley is quick to acknowledge there are still lingering misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding combat sports, most of those are just that, and belong to the uninformed and uninitiated. “I know there’s a stigma attached to combat sports, especially the idea of being in a physical confrontation like a fight or a self-defense situation, it’s hard to get over that mental hump of could I do this? Would I be able to defend myself? It comes down to any other sport – you train for it. If you prepare properly you perform well, just in our sport if you perform well you’re basically not getting injured.” The physical benefits, alongside character-building and teamwork, are enormous, Foley says. The pros far outweigh the cons.
Growth & Maturation
“There’s no better workout I’ve ever done in my life. Training at the club against some other persons body, they’re pushing you while you’re trying to push them. It’s a different kind of workout. It’s not like lifting weights – you’re trying to move another human being to where you want them to go. It’s a different type of thing.”
Under the tutelage of a decorated champion of his sport like Foley, students are only required to bring a positive attitude and a dedication to achieve. Losses and setbacks are meaningless when compared to the reality of growth, and personal maturation, in sport and in life.
“We always tell our students you either win or you learn,” Foley shares. “It’s only a loss if you don’t learn something from it, or if you’re too closed-minded to learn something from it. That’s our approach, it always has been.”
Michael Foley’s Academy of Martial Arts is located at 117 Ropewalk Lane in St. John’s. Visit michaelfoley.ca for program offerings and much more.